It rained on the way to the Rattler and when the 426 spilled its guts (of passengers), Sydenham Road burst its banks. Under the drizzle, the audience pooled in alcoves and the sign that told them when doors would open blew away.
But inside the Red Rattler – with its volunteer crew and crooked sofas – you couldn’t hear the thunder for the noise. Like a Hollywood birth scene, it was hiccups, tears, the start of something worthwhile.
There’s no need to sugarcoat how imperfect the performance was. Lighting cues failed like clockwork and voices broke mid-melody. But the cast was smart and the audience forgiving. Late fades and flubbed lines were met with adroit and grinning improv.
For this was opening night and it was Opening Night. A first time for first-timers, a dress run that slipped and kicked and fought its way into history.
The University’s first revue built only by people of colour had voices with accents you don’t usually hear and faces with looks you don’t see. It began with an acknowledgement of country and ended with a sense of history piled in the room’s corners by the drained glassware.
It was a clever revue. The satire was writerly, nesting devastating turns of phrase within the vaudeville (a voluntourist admitted they were going overseas to “cure the brown”). An inspired Game of Thrones parody riffed on the idea that, in hellish waves from Sydney’s North, gentrification was coming.
And in the rough and the chaos, we found gems. Jayesh Bhagchandani is a natural and an onstage super-magnet. His Richard Dawkins impression was a foul-mouthed splendour, his mere facial expression enough to knit together all number of weaker sketches. Radha Wahyuwidayat owned every role she stepped into through skill and bombast. Tom Joyner’s impression of Bronwyn Bishop sent the crowd into frenzy, just as his MC-ing brought them to tears.
As singular highlights go, Eden Caceda’s parody music video “Whitest Dreams” seemed destined for the crown until Lena Wang and Aparna Balakumar stepped on stage. “Attenborough in the Club” blended the night’s two best singers with inch-perfect dialogue to skewer leerers who prey on the “exotic”. A kind of reverse Taming of the Shrew spun through angelic pipes (‘The Humbling of the Fuckboy’, this correspondent suggests).
Special mention must go to Xiaoran Shi and Fatima Rauf who seemed to hoover up all the unwanted parts, rolled with the potholes and emerged with some of the biggest laughs of the night.
Of course, the odd sketch missed the mark, most musical numbers were game but incredibly shaky, and the evening dragged too long. But this was an exceptional foot-in-the-door. The high-water mark hit the ceiling, and the lowlights barely registered. This was a revue with a two-hour lifespan but a lingering spirit. It may have been raw, but then again, so is catharsis.